Does your book have a healer character, like a doctor or nurse? The healer character archetype, also known as the medicine man, actually plays a larger role within a novel than you may think. Let’s look at how Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight feature this archetype to solve all sorts of story ailments.
Traits of the healer
The healer character in a YA adventure story is competent, authoritative, and level-headed. The healer is a minor character who the main characters can lean on– this means that the healer doesn’t experience personal growth herself.
- In Harry Potter, Madam Pomfrey works in the Hogwarts Hospital Wing, and she is “a nice woman, but very strict.” (HP Ch.17).
- In The Hunger Games, Katniss’s mother is a healer in District 12. Though she physically only appears briefly, Katniss thinks of her for medical help: “I try to capture the calm demeanor my mother assumes when handling particularly bad cases.” (HG Ch.19).
- In Twilight, Edward’s father figure, Dr. Carlisle Cullen, works at the hospital. Edward explains that Carlisle has the restraint to practice medicine because he is “the most humane, the most compassionate of us. . . .” (TW Ch.14).
1. The healer allows other characters to take dangerous risks.
In Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, the stakes are high and there are several dramatic rescue scenes. Naturally, the characters are going to get hurt along the way. The presence of the healer allows the characters to brush themselves off and continue on the journey.
- In Harry Potter, Neville’s wrist breaks when he falls during flying class. No problem, because “Madam Pomfrey mended it in about a minute.” (HP Ch.9)
- In The Hunger Games, Katniss can risk dropping the tracker jacker nest because she knows there’s a remedy for the stings. As Rue chews up leaves to put on her stings, Katniss thinks: “My mother would use other methods, but it’s not like we have a lot of options.” (HG Ch.15).
- In Twilight, Bella risks fighting the evil vampire and ends up getting bit on the hand. When she is in pain, Edward says, “I know, Bella. Carlisle will give you something, it will stop.” (TW Ch.23).
2. The healer helps to build mystery and suspense.
Sometimes, a character has something to hide from the healer. Since the two characters are forced to interact when the character is injured, this helps build conflict.
- In Twilight, Bella isn’t supposed to tell anyone that Edward miraculously saved her from getting hit by the car. When Bella says she was lucky, Dr. Cullen acts suspicious. “My intuition flickered; the doctor was in on it.” (TW Ch.3).
- In Harry Potter, Hagrid’s illegal pet dragon bites Ron. After it turns green, Ron is forced to get treatment: “He didn’t know whether it was safe to go to Madam Pomfrey — would she recognize a dragon bite?” (HP Ch.14).
3. The healer gives a flat character more depth.
By combining a caregiver character with the healer archetype, an otherwise bland mom and dad become much more interesting.
- Because Dr. Cullen is part of the vampire family, everyone in the climax scene has a lot at stake. This would be less effective with an additional, unknown doctor character. “Carlisle was bent over me, working on my head.” (TW Ch.23).
- Because Katniss’s mom is also a healer, Katniss has been exposed to a lot of useful survival skills she otherwise wouldn’t know. She remembers her mom working to save Prim’s goat: “My mother was less sure, seeing the injury, but the pair of them went to work on it, grinding up herbs and coaxing brews down the animal’s throat.” (HG Ch.20).
4. The availability of a healer adds comic relief.
If a character can be quickly patched up, his frequent injuries will appear more humorous.
- In Harry Potter, Ron tells Harry about a fight with the Slytherins: “…Neville tried to take on Crabbe and Goyle single-handed! He’s still out cold but Madam Pomfrey says he’ll be all right — talk about showing Slytherin!” (HP Ch.13).
- Bella makes fun of herself for being clumsy. Dr. Cullen catches her after she stumbles in the hospital. “He looked concerned. ‘I’m fine,’ I assured him again. No need to tell him my balance problems had nothing to do with hitting my head.” (TW Ch.3).
5. The healer traps characters together.
Like #2 above, the healer can also force conflict by forcing other characters together in the hospital setting. Because the healer has a lot of authority, the characters must follow her instructions and stay put.
- Bella wants to leave the ER but the nurse won’t let her leave until she speaks with Dr. Cullen. “So I was trapped in the ER, waiting, harassed by Tyler’s constant apologies and promises to make it up to me.” (TW Ch.3).
- Madame Pomfrey controls who goes in and out of the hospital wing. Ron tells Harry how “Malfoy told Madam Pomfrey he wanted to borrow one of my books so he could come and have a good laugh at me.” (HP Ch.14).
6. The healer forces another character to save the day.
When the climax arrives, the healer instructs another character about lifesaving skills, but doesn’t save the day herself. This allows a more dynamic character to experience personal growth and triumph.
- Katniss needs to make a medical decision to save Peeta’s life, but of course her mother is not in the arena. “A bandage will not be enough. I’ve seen my mother tie a tourniquet a handful of times and try to replicate it.” (HG Ch.25).
- Dr. Cullen instructs Edward that there may be one chance to save Bella from the vampire bite: “See if you can suck the venom back out. The wound is fairly clean.” (TW Ch.23).
7. The healer highlights an ideal that the hero cannot meet.
The healer’s sense of calm and contentment is a direct contrast to the YA heroine, who is struggling to find her way. The healer’s presence shows the imperfection of the heroine and the room she has to grow.
- Bella faints just from the smell of blood. Even though Dr. Cullen is a vampire, “he is all but immune to the scent of human blood, and he is able to do the work he loves without agony. He finds a great deal of peace there, at the hospital. . . .” (TW Ch.16).
- Katniss may be tough, but she also gets uncomfortable around nakedness and injuries. She leaves on Peeta’s undershorts as she cleans his thigh wound: “That’s another thing about my mother and Prim. Nakedness has no effect on them, gives them no cause for embarrassment.” (HG Ch.19).
Why it works
Whether you include a doctor, nurse, or some type of medicine man, you might find that the healer character archetype a useful tool in generating conflict, encouraging risk-taking, and rounding out an otherwise flat character.
By not experiencing her own changes, the healer allows the hero and other main characters plenty of room to grow. By the way, though it seems related, the healer isn’t present for the post-climax wake-up scene in the hospital.
Let’s place this healer archetype card in chapters 3, 11 and 17 of the master outline, though she should have many small appearances throughout the novel.
P.S. Thanks to everyone who entered the #amwriting sticker giveaway. I will contact the 100 winners this week. 🙂